The recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s policy of collecting American communications data in bulk has citizens throughout the Nation on high alert for all things related to government spying. A developing story about the FBI’s effort to compile an improved biometrics database provides a good example of why privacy advocates are justified in their concerns.
Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted three separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the FBI seeking information on the agency’s plans to build a “bigger, faster and better” biometrics database that would incorporate facial and voice recognition technology along with other biometric identifiers.
The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database would replace and expand upon the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and is expected to start integrating facial recognition components as early as next year.
Despite quickening progress on the project, the FBI has failed to provide up-to-date information about its plans and hasn’t responded to the EFF’s FOIA requests. Last week, EFF filed a lawsuit against the FBI in a bid to compel agency officials to release the requested information.
Read the full complaint below:
“NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes,” says EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch, who has testified before the U.S. Senate on the privacy implications of facial recognition. “Biometrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images.”
In its FOIA filings, EFF sought information pertaining to “agreements and discussions between the FBI and various state agencies regarding the face-recognition program; records addressing the reliability of face-recognition technology; and documentation of the FBI’s plan to merge civilian and criminal records in a single repository.”
Lynch asserts what many Americans caught off-guard by news of vast government spying likely believe: that the government should be transparent in forthcoming efforts to collect information about Americans.
“Before the federal government decides to expand its surveillance powers, there needs to be a public debate,” Lynch says. “But there can be no public debate until the details of the program are presented to the public.”
If you are super worried about government facial recognition technology, you could always get some of these dorky glasses designed by Japan’s National Institute of Informatics to thwart facial recognition cameras.